Novel Writing and Related Topics FAQ

Hey, did you know I write novels? And yet, I haven’t done one of those FAQ articles to refer people to when they ask me the same questions I always get asked. Let me take care of that right now.

Who are you and how many novels have you written?

I’m John Scalzi. Here are the novels (and other books) I have written.

What inspires you to write novels?

My mortgage and the knowledge that everything else in the world is actual work.

How many words do you write a day? What is your daily schedule?

When I’m writing a novel, I try for 2,000 words a day, more or less. I also tend to do that writing between 8am and 12pm on weekdays, because that’s when my brain is most fresh and I’m not distracted by the rest of the universe. If I’ve been writing since 8am and it’s noon and I’m still not at 2,000 words, I tend to knock off for the day anyway. If I hit noon and I’m on a roll, I will often keep going until I feel like I’ve hit a good stopping point. The closer I get to the end of a book, the more I tend to write a day, and the longer I tend to write, because I want to be done.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

It depends on the novel. Generally speaking most novels I write are in the 90,000 to 100,000 word range. If you note my standard writing speed above, you’ll see I aim for 10,000 words a week, which means ten weeks to write a novel. In reality, the time to write a novel has been as short as five weeks (Redshirts) and as long as nine months (The Human Division) depending on several factors including but not limited to plotting and structuring, time able to spend writing each day, and real life getting in the way of my writing time.

Do you outline?

Not generally. I usually start writing and make it up as I go along. I know writers who outline, however, and it seems to work for them. I think writers should do what works for them.

How many drafts do you do?

One. However, as I write I also edit and revise, because you can do that when you work on a computer. So a lot of the work that other writers do in second and subsequent drafts gets done by me as I go along. I call this “fractal drafting.” However, I know authors who write a complete first draft and then make second (or additional) drafts. Because that’s the process that works for them. Again, writers should do what works for them.

Where do you get your ideas for novels?

Writers generally hate this question; I personally find the question puzzling. Finding ideas is not hard. They’re everywhere and my brain naturally comes up with tons of others on a regular basis. The issue is not getting ideas. The issue is separating the relatively few really good ideas from the vast sea of bad ones. That’s the real challenge. I solve that problem with time — if an idea is a good one, it will stick around. If it’s still in my head months or even years after I first think of it, it might be worth pursuing.

Are you ever going to write fiction that’s not science fiction?

Maybe. We’ll see.

May I be one of your beta readers?

I don’t typically employ beta readers outside of my wife and one or two close friends, and when I do I solicit them directly. So thanks, but no.

Are you going to do any more novels in the [name of a novel] series?

The answer to this, barring an actual signed contract, is always “maybe, we’ll see.”

Are they going to make a movie/TV show/video game/etc of [name of novel]? 

The answer to this, barring an actual signed option contract, is always “probably not, but we’ll see.” When there is an actual signed option contract, the answer is “probably not, but at least someone is trying and I’m getting paid while they do.” Also, the answer to “You should make a movie/tv show/video game/etc of [name of novel]” is “Give me $60 million to make it, please.”

Any writing advice?


I have a great idea for a novel. Can I tell you about it?

I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t need any more ideas (see above) and I don’t want you or anyone else thinking I stole a novel idea from you or anyone else. Related to that, I’m not interested in collaborating with you (or anyone else) on a novel, especially when that “collaboration” is “I give you the idea, you write it, we split the profits.” Sorry, no.

Do you mind if I write fan fiction/make fan art set in the world of your novels?

Generally, I have no problem with this. Have fun. Here’s my long-form fan fic/fan art policy.

Can I send you my unpublished/self-published novel/story for critique?


May I send you a fan letter?

Sure. Thanks. I read these all and try to respond if I’m not otherwise squashed by work and commitments.

If I send you a book to sign will you sign it?

Sorry, no. Here’s why, and how to get signed books from me.

You made a factual error in [name of novel]. Can I tell you about it?

Sure, send me an e-mail. If it checks out I’ll send a note to my publisher to fix it in future editions. Be aware that unless the book has just come out, however, I’ve already probably been made aware of the error and you are one of several dozen people to let me know of the error. If the book is more than a year old, you probably shouldn’t bother. Also, be aware I may not respond to e-mail noting errors, excepting the one that initally spots the error.

You made a poor creative choice in [name of novel]. Can I tell you about it? 

Try to resist. The book has already been published and I’m not going to change it. I wouldn’t have sent it in to be published if I wasn’t happy with it. Go ahead and write a review about it somewhere. You don’t need to tell me. I don’t tend to respond to these e-mails.

I have writing advice for you. Can I tell you about it?

Unless you are someone from whom I’ve solicited feedback or are actually my editor, no. I’ve been doing this writing thing professionally for two decades now. I don’t want or need unsolicited writing advice, particularly from people who I don’t know and/or who are not professional writers/editors. Offering it will just annoy me. I will delete your e-mail.

Your novel is not available where I live/not in a language I prefer to read/not in a format I prefer/not at a price I find congenial/not published in a manner I find philosophically aligned to my own worldview and desires. Can I tell you about it?

If you must, but be aware that in nearly all cases there’s not much I can do about it. All of that is under the control of the companies who publish my work and/or the retailers who carry it. The most I can typically do for you is say “sorry,” and then suggest you go talk to the publisher/retailer. Please do be aware that if what you’re really doing is writing to me to get on a hobby horse about ideal book prices, traditional vs. indie publishing, global markets or etc, I’ll probably delete your e-mail as soon as the hobby horse becomes apparent. You could save us both time by skipping that.

Other (brief) questions that make sense to be in this particular FAQ? Ask them in the comment section; I might add them to the FAQ in the future.